Different location, same intensity as ASU football kicks off Camp Tontozona

The Sun Devils will now wait for the weather to cooperate.

PAYSON, Ariz. — ASU football held its first practice of the 2016 season on Wednesday as the team opened up its annual trip to Camp Tontozona.

The Sun Devils arrived at "Camp T" on Tuesday, six months to the day of falling 43-42 to West Virginia in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field. Head coach Todd Graham said it was obvious his guys could barely wait to get things going again.

"We got in the walk-through and it was like full speed, I said 'hold on a minute,'" Graham said.  "But I like that guys were anxious, I like that guys were ready to go."

The only thing that could put a damper on the mood Wednesday at Camp Tontozona was the weather.  ASU was forced to move the first day of practice from the traditional surface at Camp T to a turf field at nearby Rumsey Park in Payson. The team managed to complete its first practice session in Payson before the "newcomers" practice was cut short due to more thunderstorms. 

Graham acknowledged the first day of camp had an unusual feel to it as the Sun Devils opened up the first day at a different location.

"It's a little bit different starting out here, but I like it," he said.  "It's a great surface to practice on, so if it rains, we'll come down here."

The tradition of Camp Tontozona began in 1960 under former head coach Frank Kush. Following a brief hiatus from Camp T during the Dennis Erickson era at ASU, the tradition was brought back after Graham's hiring in 2011. 

Graham not only pushed to reinstate the annual visit to Payson, but also implemented a strict no technology policy. Players instead spent their time bonding with teammates in their living quarters, around the campfire and on the annual hike up Mount Kush. The only technology allowed at the camp is that which is used for the student athletes to complete school work. 

"It gives us time to really reflect on why you're doing what you're doing," Graham said. "I wish we could come for two weeks. I love it because it really allows you to focus."

The Quarterback Conundrum

The biggest question mark entering fall camp is undoubtedly who will start at quarterback for the Sun Devils. Redshirt freshmen Brady White and Bryce Perkins, Redshirt sophomore Manny Wilkins and freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole all took reps under center Wednesday without a clear standout in the group.  Although it figures to be a close battle at the position, White and Wilkins downplayed the competition between them.

"Obviously, yes, you're competing to win a job, but you're out here to work together as a team," White said. "It's ultimately a season that we need to put together, not an individual performance, so I'm just looking to put this team in the best position that we can, whether I get on the field or someone else does."

Wilkins echoed White's sentiments of getting better as a team.

"At the end of the day, I'm competing with myself and he's (White) competing with himself," Wilkins said. "When he makes mistakes I learn from it, and when I make mistakes he learns from it, and together we get better."

Graham said he'd like to "simplify" the offense with a group of young quarterbacks competing for the job, and won't name the starter until Week 1 against Northern Arizona.

Defending The Deep Ball

The Sun Devils allowed an NCAA-worst 337.8 yards per game through the air last season, a statistic they know they must improve on if they want a chance to compete for a Pac-12 Championship.

The struggles in the secondary were never more evident than in the Cactus Bowl, when ASU allowed the Mountaineers to achieve a game-record 532 passing yards along with five passing touchdowns.

"We hold it as a chip on our shoulder," sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr said. "People think they can just throw it over top of us. We're going to let it be known you can't do that this year."

The team worked on deep coverage for close to 45 minutes on Wednesday, and will continue to do so through the week, according to defensive backs coach TJ Rushing.

ASU will continue practice at Camp Tontozona on Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m. 

Reach the reporter at mfaye@asu.edu or follow @mattGfaye on Twitter.

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